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China passes sweeping Hong Kong national security law, report says

(CNN) — Beijing has reportedly passed a wide-reaching national security law for Hong Kong, which many fear could be used to override existing legal processes and further erode the city’s civil and political freedoms.

Beijing’s top lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed the law unanimously on Tuesday morning local time, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature, via a rarely used constitutional backdoor, according to Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK, citing unnamed sources.

Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency previously reported the law would criminalize offenses such as secession, subversion against the central Chinese government, terrorism, and colluding with foreign forces.

A draft of the law had not been made public ahead of its passage, meaning the majority of people in Hong Kong have not seen details of a law that will now govern their lives.

The passing of the law has not been officially confirmed and details remain unclear. But RTHK reports that possible maximum sentencing for crimes under the law will be “much higher” than 10 years imprisonment.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to comment on the progress of the bill in her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, saying it would be “inappropriate” to respond to questions while the NPC meeting is still in progress.

The legislation was widely criticized by opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong, human rights groups and politicians worldwide, with many saying the law will cement Beijing’s direct control over the semi-autonomous city. Many worry the law could be used to target political dissidents, a fear that stems from China’s judicial track record.

The passing of the law comes a day before July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British colonial rule to China in 1997. It has become an annual day of protests in the city, but for the first time since handover police have not given permission to protesters to hold peaceful demonstrations.

This is a developing story.

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